I'm trying to let someone play an emulator on another monitor while I use my computer normally on the main monitor.

I need to set up an emulator for SNES that will continue the emulation and accept joypad input even when the window doesn't have focus. Numerous emulators for other systems allow me to do this, but at least trying zsnes and snes9x I can't do this. I found a modified version of snes9x that sort of works, but the sound is a little iffy in game and when the game loses focus sound stops entirely. zsnes will run by default when it loses focus, but I can't move it to the other monitor, and taking focus away means it won't accept input.

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    Close voters: I don't think this is off-topic as per this Arqade Meta post: meta.gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/102/… Mar 18, 2013 at 11:23
  • It might be a better question for one of the other sites though, this one is about games themselves, not about settings of software used to play games.
    – Kevin
    Mar 18, 2013 at 11:42
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    Emulators and emulation are considered on topic. We have numerous questions about emulators here, just check the emulation tag for lots of examples.
    – agent86
    Mar 18, 2013 at 13:00
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    @galacticninja I voted to close this because it's essentially a recommendation request, not because it's about emulation. I stand by that vote. Mar 18, 2013 at 14:27
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    @LessPop_MoreFizz I realize this is on the border of what might be acceptable but I think it's beyond a simple recommendation ("Which SNES emulator should I use?") and more of a specific search for a specific feature that I can't seem to reliably find. The field of potential answers seems pretty small, if one exists at all, and there's no subjectivity involved.
    – ssb
    Mar 19, 2013 at 0:52

2 Answers 2


I pulled out my old monitor to test the very small list of SNES emulators.

  • zSNES uses DirectX calls that ignore Windows' own monitor logic, which requires that zSNES handles multiple monitors itself (which it doesn't). Without a rework of its rendering code (which has been promised and undelivered since 2006, at least), zSNES is out of the running.

  • SNES9x though handles multiple monitors fine, and under the Emulation menu it has Pause When Inactive on by default. Turning that off makes it continue emulation when it doesn't have focus just fine, at least in the version I'm testing (v1.53 W64) on my hardware. (It's possible that it has sound issues that are hardware dependent.) However, I appear to be suffering an odd bug where SNES9x will recognise my gamepad when I'm configuring the controls, but ignores them during emulation, so I can't directly confirm that input works when it doesn't have focus. In theory it should.

  • higan is a bit idiosyncratic in a few ways – you have to "import" the cart if it isn't a .sfc format ROM, and it offers a very granular degree of control over video and audio sync that doesn't give an optimal out-of-box experience (there is an AV timing wizard to mess with) – but my testing confirms that its configuration options for background emulation and background input work just dandy with my gamepad and my second monitor. It won't run in fullscreen on the second monitor – attempting that fullscreens it to the main monitor. You'll also need to make sure that the controller config not only uses the gamepad, but that you also remove all the keyboard bindings as well, since otherwise higan will respond to your typing while your friend tries to play.

I haven't tested OpenEmu or NO$SNS yet, but if higan or Snes9x v1.53 doesn't do it for you, I can track those down too.

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    I swear I tried that version of snes9x last night and something with it didn't work quite right, which led me to get this. It's based on an older version, though. I'll try higan when I get home, I haven't heard of that one.
    – ssb
    Mar 19, 2013 at 7:06
  • What about ZSNES in windowed mode?
    – Zommuter
    Jul 19, 2013 at 10:18
  • @zommuter These tests were done in windowed mode. ZSNES is doing direct-draw stuff that ignores anything but the primary monitor. Notice that it doesn't have a Windows frame and buttons. Jul 19, 2013 at 16:52

Virtualize the emulator!

No, I'm not kidding - run a small Linux or Windows setup on a virtual machine fullscreened to one monitor and inside that run the emulator (it's only SNES after all). And since at least vmware player supports a dedicated USB mode where the host system won't even know about USB devices "attached" to the VM, you can even plug in a second pair of keyboard/mouse, and split the audio output to e.g. only the front plug - see this question. That's how we managed to play Minecraft two persons on one PC simultaneously, without each other's sound interfering!

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    Neat solution. +1 Jul 19, 2013 at 18:53
  • I do like that, I never would have though of it. Relatively a lot of work I guess but if it gets the job done...
    – ssb
    Jul 20, 2013 at 4:52
  • @ssb It's not that complicated actually, in fact I consider it easier than some GPU settings ;-) Be sure to upvote Tyler's answer whose idea this was originally. As I mentioned once we got it set up (vmware player running an old WinXP license from a discarded notebook) my not too powerful machine managed even two instances of Minecraft plus a server - yup, the VM even has hardware acceleration
    – Zommuter
    Jul 20, 2013 at 6:44

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